He found her in the viewfinder, the night was ivory with the moon and the elms were very pale. Outside of the photo there was only the brunt of the night and the far off stars but when he pressed he saw her, the colour of sepia, a Victorian ghost amongst the trees.
His hands were shaking. In the next image she had lifted her hand. He put down the camera and saw only blue black branches of trees.
'Are you a ghost?'
Her voice was soft.
'What are you?'
Then she was gone, and the images only gnarled trees. When he got back he uploaded the picture to his P.C.. He put it as his screensaver, and then he took it off. He went to sleep and dreamt of her lying next to him. Her hair was soft and dark in great waves.
He came at dusk the next night and the stars were already coming out like cold thoughts. He pointed the camera at an oak tree, bent by a storm, and he saw her, and trembled in the brief air. He went towards the tree. There was a warmth there, and a breath in the air, like laughter and grief.
'Are you a ghost?'
'No,' she said again. 'I'm real. I'm just – not visible.'
This was not what he had been imagining. He had considered ghost. Hallucination. Angel. Not visible hadn't crossed his mind. What did it mean? How did you take a photo of not visible? So he asked: 'What's your name?'
'You're so beautiful.' He said. 'Like silver on the tree.'
'Will you marry me?'
Melinda said: 'It's necessary that you see me. Through your lens. It tastes like – berries, when you're hungry. Sweet, centred with cold. I like your hair. What do you take photos of?'
'Landscape mostly,' said Philip, his heart still pounding.
'When you photograph me,' said Melinda, 'I can feel the air beat on my skin.'
'Is that good?'
'Yes,' said Melinda, and again. 'Today – yes. On the hill no one has seen me. Not visible is weightlessness. Falling like - feathers. Not bad only nothing to be done. When you take me I can feel - my feet.'
He felt a soft touch on his neck, and jerked in shock, but then she left her hand there, and it felt normal – only, well, not for Philip, since he hadn't been touched there for years, and he knew what she meant then, about the weightlessness and weight.
'How long have you been – not visible?'
'Since I fell out of the belly of a star. Perhaps we were an asteroid. When I landed scientists took photos. I hated them, though. When I laughed, they didn't. So I ran away. Here. I was watching you with your camera.'
He had considered alien, and felt on stronger ground.
'You come from a star?'
'So do you,' said Melinda. 'Your bones, your blood, all turned over, over and over, once before up there, in the dark cool night, like light and thunder.'
'Yes,' said Philip, who didn't understand, but the truth was, that he wanted to embrace her and there was a wild joy beginning in him, unlike anything that had begun before.
He moved his hand, and felt an arm, a hand. Hesitant. She moved her fingers out and around his, and said with the sternness of a fairy tale princess:
'So, you'll marry me?'
'Yes,' said Philip.
'Oh,' said Melinda. And in that oh there was a depth of sadness, and Phil didn't understand from where it had come from. And he said: 'That's what you want?'
'Oh yes,' said Melinda, 'and you know, I might be – like the frog, and when you marry me, I might come back. All – you know. Skin and human.'
'Well yes,' said Philip, feeling lightheaded. 'Quite. You don't have any objection to a church do you?'
'A church might object to me.'
'Yes,' said Philip thoughtfully. 'And are there any – you know – things. Like I can't strike you, three times, or you'll disappear with all your cows.'
Melinda laughed, and it was all over the hill like children's glitter.
'I don't have any cows,' she said. 'And you can't strike me, not if you can't see me. But I'm not a fey, I'm not an undine, I'm just not – visible.'
Phil took her hand in the glittery night, and they walked down the tuffety hill hot with ravens and colour flowed in through her and she blushed, although it could be seen to nobody but the wind. So she raised the back of Phil's hand linked in hers, raised it to her cheek so that he could feel the warmth and Phil thought that it wasn't fair, the happiness that was happening to him, it wasn't fair when there were people who weren't, and he hoped he would be enough for her.
He took her home to his apartment, grateful that he'd cleaned last week. He felt that she would appreciate traditional manners, so he made the bed in the spare room that used to be Hannah's until she moved out.
'Thank you,' she said simply, as he lead her up the stairs, and to the empty space, that still seemed to reverberate with Hannah's thrumming music, and sellotape scraps on the wall. She was not here anymore but Melinda could see her, sitting on a bean bag in her leather jacket and kissing her boyfriend's with the abandonment of true honesty, with the certainty of a very visible woman.
'This was my sister's room,' said Philip.
'Would you like a cup of tea?' It was disconcerting when he didn't know where, in the room, she was, when he had given it to her, she seemed to inhabit it unfairly, like a precious bird or poisonous gas. He stood hesitant on the threshold and felt uncertain, about her presence, about his promise.
'Yes,' said a gentle voice by his ear, and immediately he felt ashamed. Did it really matter? Was he really the kind of person to mind, if there was love? And such - beauty?
He went to make the tea. His camera was in his bag, by the door. He wanted to take more photos. But he didn't feel like asking. Not yet. He'd made her a promise – like in a fairy tale. It seemed to be the most important.
He took in the tea. The room was empty. Of course. Only it wasn't. There was a movement in the air, a certainty in the molecules, a beauty of the veil in the way the breeze flew.
The cup moved gently from his hand over onto the table.
'Where is she now?'
'Oh – she moved out with her boyfriend. We were just flatmates when we were both students, you know. Some people thought it was weird.'
'Oh – I don't know.'
Philip was nervous. Also, wondering if he was mad. And then her hand touched his shoulder again, and it seemed as if years of fumbling, and great crushing spaces of loneliness were gone in one motion of contact.
She said: 'I'll go to sleep now. You'll see about the wedding?'
'Yes,' said Philip, automatically. 'Well – sleep well.'
'Thank you Philip,' she said. 'Thank you Philip.' As if she was trying out the name.
And the hand moved away from his shoulder and he went to his room.
He wanted to touch himself and dream of her – and during the night he was in a wildness, very quietly, to take it up the camera, and open the door, and take a shot – just to see. How she was sleeping. How her hair was rising with her breath and her cheeks were flushed with sleep. After all, it was a risk he was taking – and it wasn't such a big thing – to have assurance about what he was getting himself into. But he didn't. He had been brought up to be a gentleman, and also, he had been bought up reading stories, and the tale of Cupid and Psyche was too close and too loud. But the wish was on the side of all his thoughts, as if his mind was a knife – and if it turned one way - easily – he would do it.
He slept badly and then, towards morning, he seemed to slip deeper. He was in an orchard, everything was the colour of sepia, and she was there – and they were dancing. And the most silent-certain contentment flowed through him until he knew that without a doubt everything – but everything would be alright.
Philip, used to waking for the morning light of photography - woke up at 7. It was a Saturday so no work. There was no sign of movement from his sister – Melinda's – room.
He sat down at the kitchen table, and wondered how to do it. He picked up the phone.
'It's bloody 7 in the bloody morning Philip!'
'I'm getting married.'
'Only – there's this problem. Hannah?'
'I'm sorry Philip - you're getting - who?'
'Look, I was taking photos on the hill last night and this – well – it's hard to explain.'
'I'll come over,' said Hannah. 'Make me a coffee.'
Philip put the phone down, feeling relieved. 'Your sister's coming?' said a voice by his elbow. He nearly jumped out of his skin.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I frightened you.'
'No, it's okay,' he said, holding on to the kitchen table. It's fine. Would you like some breakfast?'
'What do you have?'
He made her toast and jam.
'What do you do?' she said.
'Do?' said Philip. He was sitting opposite her, watching the disappearing toast as if he saw it every day.
'You know – during the days. To make money to buy food and shelter. That's how people do it, isn't it?'
'Oh – yes. I'm a receptionist at a vet's clinic while I finish my MA – er - studies, you know.'
'Studies of what?'
'I'm studying Fine Art and Photography.'
'Oh.' He didn't want to give her his whole CV. It was too flat. Too headachey real and malignantly possible. Although as his fiance she certainly had a right to know. So he said: 'I'll maybe work in an art gallery after. It's difficult to get a photography job.'
'You do it very gently,' said Melinda. 'That scaffolding-enfolding vision.'
Then she said: 'Do you like it at the vet's?'
'Yes,' said Philip.
How to put it? 'It's very sociable,' he said. 'Not just with people, you know?'
That sounded bizarre.
Melinda was silent, as if she was thinking about something. After awhile she said: 'It's not normal here, to socialise outside your species?'
'Er - no,' said Philip. 'I mean – well, people have pets. But it's not like – you'd invite them to the party.'
Melinda said nothing. Then: 'Can I have another piece of toast?'
She spread it with raspberry jam. And then she said:
'Look at me while I'm eating.'
Her voice was hunrgy, low. What about her? Was she human? Perhaps incubus. He got the camera from his bag, his hands trembling. He looked through the viewfinder but nothing. He had to press to find her there and then she was, with a crumb on her lip, and dark eyes, a Victorian goddess, a strange kitchen mate, a fairy-woman, a lynx-spirit, a wild-wife. Her eyes like soil run through with clear water. And her hair like strength.
She looked at him and smiled.
The doorbell rang. For the second time he jumped out of his skin, and pressed, and saw no alarm in her eyes, only an impatience, perhaps, a kind of hunger.
'That'll be Hannah,' he mumbled.
His sister clumped past him, laying her bag on the ground. 'What the hell you've been taking, little brother?' she said.
'Hello,' said Melinda as she entered the kitchen, 'I'm Philip's fiance.'
'Bloody fucking hell,' said Hannah.
After that, it didn't go too badly, Philip thought.
In a while Melinda went back into her room to have a rest. It tired her, she said, not being used to talking to people.
Philip said to Hannah, not giving her a chance to berate him for his not visible bride:
'The problem is, I can't see how – how - '
He should have given his sister more credit. She slurped her tea thoughtfully. After awhile, she said:
'Does she show up online?'
'You didn't try?'
He shrugged again. 'On my desktop the pictures – she's still there, the pictures are just pictures.'
'What about live? Videocam?'
He wondered why he hadn't thought about it before. To see her in full motion -
'Don't get any ideas,' said Hannah, which Philip thought was bit rich, considering it was his wife-to-be they were talking about. 'I mean for the wedding.'
She seemed to be taking it seriously then. Which was just like Hannah. Being a mathmatician, she very quickly adapted to the new variables set before her. But Philip – was confused. He would have either like her to have got angry, or that they had kept it a secret. His secret, breathing being. Why had he called his sister? Everything was mundane.
Hannah was shaking her head. 'But, I guess it wouldn't be enough. They're probably not legal in England. We have to do it properly. If we got someone to come round to the house, and wired up the cameras, they could do it in the kitchen, and Melinda could stay in the bedroom. We could say she's got a deadly infectious disease. She'd still be technically present.'
'She doesn't have an infectious disease,' said Philip testily.
'Sure she does,' said Hannah. 'She'd infect any self-respecting priest with the fear of God and they'd be out of the house before you can say fuck me.'
She stood up. 'I'll call Jake,' she said. 'He graduated last summer, you know.'
Philip nodded. His thoughts were heavy like snow on snow, dark, massive, unclear.
'She's nice,' said Hannah, as she picked up her bag. 'I like her Phil. Good choice.' She gave him a thumbs up and let herself out and Phil felt a barrage of affection for her, his utterly open-minded sister, who hadn't batted an eyelid once she'd heard her speak.
As it turned out, she did show up on screen. After Hannah had gone, Philip slipped out to PC world to get a videocam and set it up on his laptop.
He heard the door open, when he came back in, and somebody took hold of his wrist.
'I thought you had gone,' said a voice. 'Broke your promise. Did she like me?'
'Yes,' said Philip, breathless that she was still here. 'And she had this idea - '
She watched him while he set it up. She didn't seem to like the idea, she was moving through the small bedroom, the curtains kept lifting and the door moving back and forth. She made him nervous.
When it was working, he turned around.
'Do you want to try it?' he asked, uncertain.
He turned the camera round to where her voice was, and turned it on. He pressed record and she was there, alright. She was standing by the window, looking as her sound had been.
He looked on the screen. She was beautiful.
'We can get married like this,' he said.
She nodded. 'It makes me feel blurry,' she said, and she sat down on the floor.
Looking at the screen, trying to remember exactly where she was, Philip went over to the window. Tentatively he reached out, and then he put his arms around her, leaning over her. It was as close as he had been. She smelt like magnesium.
They rested like that, arms in arms, and stopped counting the time.
The next day Hannah's friend Jake, recently-vicar, came round to talk to them about it.
'She can't leave the bed,' said Philip. 'And we can't go in there. She's got these – light allergies. They are very rare. But she can be online, from next door, and I'll be here. I know it's not technically – you know. But she would be here, right Melinda?'
Jake was a gentle man from Aberdeen who had been Hannah's classmate in Philosophy and the wells of the lochs showed up in his eyes. He looked at Melinda sitting on the bed in the spareroom (Phil had shifted the laptop). Then he rapped gently on the door and spoke with Melinda through it.
'Well,' he said after a while, turning back to Philip. 'It isn't quite -.It certainly isn't quite-.' He paused and Phil bit his lip.
'Yes,' said Philip.
'Well,' he said again. 'You know, I think we could fix something up. What is a kitchen wall in the eyes of God, now?'
After he had gone Philip sat on her bed and they held each other's hands.
They had the wedding two weeks later, with Hannah and a friend from the vet's as witnesses. They had a tall white wedding cake Hannah had baked. She put it in the centre of the table and surrounded it with tall wine glasses and lit candles. Melinda was wearing a dress her sister-in-law to be had brought her in Oxfam, ivory bright, and she looked on screen like a Gabriel Rossetti painting.
The guests stood politely in the kitchen, Jake at the top of the wooden table, clear afternoon light coming through the high, fern spread window, illuminating the green wine glasses. Philip felt absurdly grateful to the vicar for standing there, for bringing the sanctity of his millenia old rite into his house.
They went through the ceremony. It was bizarre, yet no one laughed. Melinda had made Philip turn off the speakers, but her voice came clear through the door, through the thin walls. As they went through the words Philip felt, dazed, that on the screen was a feeble trace and she was everywhere, really. She was the atmosphere itself and they were all made from her, enacting her conception of this early-evening green-light marriage rite.
When Jake said: 'you may now kiss -' Philip slipped into the spare room and everyone in the kitchen clapped. He met her lips in need and even though the house was full he was in a house of silence.
But afterwards, when he was shutting the door behind the congratulating guests, Philip suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of tightness, of claustrophobia that he had not felt up to now, that it hadn't been right, enough, that it should have been in a cathedral and there should have been aisles of orchids.
The kitchen was all over with used wine glasses and a half-eaten cake. When he went back into the room she said: 'Can you see me now?' Her voice was childish, teasing, knowing that it wasn't so, and hoping all at the same time, mocking him and mocking her.
'No,' he said.
But he picked her up and took her to the bedroom anyway. She slid down under the covers, and while she was lying there, he got out the camera and took hundreds of shots while she giggled and stuck out her tongue and stuck out her legs and her arms and it seemed a terrible relief to her, to be married, even if she wasn't visible. Then they lay in bed together. Holding onto each other.
Yet – he was nervous and sad, lying there. Of course, she was expecting more. Of course, he was disappointing her. Yet – that - thought was dizzying. She was too delicate, if he couldn't see her. They stopped with an embrace like at a gate. She moved his head down, and he pressed it to where he could hear her heart beating, and he felt as if he was again in that garden, the sepia garden. They slept their hair on each other's lips.
They had three months, and everything was almost perfect. Philip went out to work or study during the day. Came home in the evening. Melinda had cooked dinner, though she ate very little herself, her cooking was sweet, delicate, like her. In the evening, sometimes they watched TV, though Melinda didn't seem to like it. She preferred it when she read to him. These were her happiest moments, when she curled up on the couch in the living room, and Philip sat next to her, with his hand in her hair, and read – it didn't matter what – although tales were best. Sometimes he read the newspaper, but it didn't seem to make much sense to her, and he could tell (he had become very sensitive to her breathing) that she was not so much bored, as bewildered. So he stuck to the tales. She liked the fairy tales best. When he got into One Thousand and One Nights, her breath was so soft and deep that he would have thought she had fallen asleep, if there weren't points and pockets of awareness in it.
And it was all so – perfect – that while he was reading the words, he reached over to the stool next to him and pulled his camera, while he was reading, and he clicked a photo of her.
He heard a sharp intake of breath and when he looked into the viewfinder, he was bewildered to find her eyes furious.
He moved away on the couch, his heart thudding in confusion.
For a second or two, there was no respose. Then she spoke again, but her voice was soft.
'You just took me by surprise, that's all.'
He said nothing.
Melinda reached up and took the camera from him. She laughed. 'I look horrible. Let's go to bed and take some more.'
So they did, and all was peace, and afterwards, he kissed her breasts, and he heard the rhythm of her breathing, like Arabic spices.
But then there was another afternoon, when the light was long in the sky, as if it was about to thunder, and the clouds were mackeral, pinkish, and he hurried home against the scourging North wind, and she put his bowl on the table, the plate rested apologetically.
'It didn't work so well, today,' she said.
It was fine, soup, just a bit tasteless.
'It's really good. But Melinda – you don't have to do all the cooking, you know. I'm not such a horrible cook.'
She said nothing. He was afraid he had offended her.
'I'm here,' she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. 'It's just – sometimes I'm sad because – what else exactly can I do?' Her voice was heavy and he wasn't sure what with. Sometimes in his own home he felt like a blindman.
'I just - Hannah would kill me, if she knew I let you do all the cooking.'
'Well, don't then.' He still couldn't read her. Another bowl of soup settled down and she began to eat, so so did he.
Afterwards, he wanted to do something, to see something, her smile as sweet as phoenix feathers, so he went around to the other side of the table, where he felt her arms, and he moved her upwards, and he said very gently, come to bed.
She came with him. He took out the camera, and in the first shot, he could see her back and shoulders. But when he took her face, there was that fury again and he let it drop, confused, frightened.
Why didn't she say anything, if she didn't want it? He couldn't see her at all.
There was only ragged breathing.
'Get on with it then,' said Melinda, and her voice was harsh and not like hers at all. Philip put the camera on the bedside table. He was shaking. He sat down on the bed. Again, her breathing was somewhere in the middle, between furious and gentle, as if she was trying to be his, but couldn't find her way through the storm. He put a hand on her waist, lightly, lightly. He was angry – it wasn't his fault, he couldn't see her. But he didn't want her to see it. He said:
Her voice was like lead. 'You and you're fucking camera,' she said. 'You think you know me? You think you can see me?'
Then there was the sound of moving off the bed, and a door slamming, and another one.
Philip lay down on the bed. He knew he should move. His heart told him he should get off the bed and go after her. But outside was only dead air and occasional dusty leaves, and without anything to see her he wouldn't have a chance.
He closed his eyes. Water interrupted the sepia dream, and so did time, making it dusty and unpleasant.
'Melinda.' he said.
When he woke, it was a sharp misery that came to him with consciousness. He heard a noise in the kitchen, and crawled out of bed.
'Melinda?' he said on the threshold. The kettle was boiling
'How did you sleep?' her voice was contained.
'Okay - I - thought you'd -'
'I'm not leaving you,' said Melinda. 'I'm married to you.' Then he was pulled into an incomprehendable, bear-like embrace.
'You should go to work,' she said, pulling away.
'About last night -'
'We'll talk about it later,' said Melinda.
Melinda was sitting at the kitchen table when Hannah came round – at least, Hannah assumed she was, from the moving of the tea cup.
'Would you like a coffee?'
'Oh god,' said Hannah, 'You sound terrible. What's he been doing to you?'
'Nothing,' said Melinda. She could feel the brittleness in her voice, like cold leaves. 'It's not him,' she said. 'It's me. I thought after I got married I'd get – well, you know. Better. And I haven't and now - I can't do it anymore. He can't see me. He only looks at me through that -'
'Yeah, that would annoy me after awhile,' said Hannah, looking at the camera lying on the table top. 'I always thought it was a bit of weird, all that clicking.'
Hannah could feel her leaning further towards her, angry, trying to explain herself. 'It isn't like that. When he takes photos of me – that was why I married him – you know – because when he caught me on that hill, everything was filled out, suddenly, and terribly certain, and I could hear the blackbirds. And it makes him so happy, his whole self is concentrated. But then -' she paused confused and then said in a rush, 'Sometimes I think I could take it and smash it to pieces, grain by silver metal grain.'
Hannah said nothing.
'What is wrong with me?' asked Melinda. 'Not just the invisibility. All of it. I thought I would be solid with marriage, but I'm not. That's what all the stories say. If you're a fairy or an other being – you have to marry. But it's not helping. I need a witch at the back of a forest, to go and ask but there aren't any forests in this arctic town.'
Hannah thought about it.
'Not in forests,' she said. 'You could try one of my professors. She's kind of like that – you know.'
Melinda thought about it. 'Who is she?' in a voice so soft that Hannah could see what her brother saw, or rather heard, in her sound, and her breathing.
She said: 'At the uni. Professor Crispin. She's pretty old and wise. That's what you need, right? And I reckon she wouldn't have so much problem with you being unseen, some of them might.'
Melinda said nothing.
Hannah leaned across the table to where she thought her sister-in-law might be.
'It isn't your fault, you know.'
'Yes,' said Melinda firmly. 'It is. I let your brother think, when I was marrying him, that I would become something other.' Her voice was less brittle now. More stoney.
'Well, maybe,' said Hannah. 'But if you don't like all that business with the camera, you don't have to put up with it. Nobody has to put up with -'
'No, I just mean -'
'He's my husband,' said Melinda.
'Well what are you complaining about them?' said Hannah, irritably. She felt a soft collapsing opposite her, an uncertain misery, and regretted her tone.
Then Melinda said: 'What did you say her name was?'
'Crispin, she's in the psychology department. It's in the quad on -'
'I know where it is -'
Hannah looked up in alarm. Her voice had changed again.
'Get out,' she said. 'Leave my house. Get out, get out, get out.'
'What the fuck is wrong with you?'
'Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out!'
Hannah went. She reached the pavement, shaking.
Upstairs, still Melinda sat down at the kitchen table and stared. She stood up, moved around the kitchen, listlessly.
She was becoming invisible, she thought, even to herself now. Nothing she did seemed to have an impact, and so she turned up the pressure of actions, made the stronger, wilder, so she could see her footprints.
What had she done now? Would Hannah – who was only trying to help – call Philip – and say what – not that it mattered.
Melinda sat back down at the kitchen table. She wished she was back on the crest of the hill. And however good the seeing had felt she should not have run to it. She should have carried on drifting. She should have not been seduced by presence like warm stone. She should have gone.
Philip's sweatshirt lay on the back of the chair. Melinda picked it up, and put down her face in it.
She thought backwards.
A fumbling fall – people weren't really born from stars – maybe she had dreamt the whole thing.
What she had dreamt was – nothing – only long traced light like waltzing, making patterns on the clay blue dark.
What she had dreamt was – a sudden stumble, a sharp relief - as if a pressure she hadn't known was over - and a knowing of aloneness that hurt like sky.
And moving down very very quickly.
And what she would later call grass, only she had known it was obliging sharp green, and damp on palms and legs.
It had been night. Confused, she had turned over to sleep so that she could talk to the new soil.
But before that, before she had managed, something had swept over her, and swept again. It hadn't been unplesant. It made her hiccup. And then a light that had asked her to follow it, gentle, like her, so she had followed it down stairs and through glass doors.
A very strange kind of colour and sense. Around her, the unkeeping of secrets smelt like metal. And then a crisp clinking and over her a law like congealed winter, a closed cage.
'There's something there,' said a cool, pleasant, excited voice. She opened her eyes. But this light was not happy, it had never been sung to sleep, it was not prepared for ending and so it was rude, like a child tyrant, like Lear's daughters, she thought later, when Philip read her Shakespeare.
'Some kind of presence – but manifestly physical – look through the camera' – gasps of astonishment – and then to the naked eye – laughs of bemusement – 'shall I call Dean – saw something in the security cameras – a hallucination – disturbance in the air itself – or is to just to the senses – even touch evoked – the parapsychology lot will want to get a look – '
They tried speaking to her through the camera.
'Hello. How are you? Can you hear me?' They sounded embarrassed, as if they were speaking to their own reflections and they stopped.
She didn't speak. If she had spoken, she could have explained that she was like them and they would have let her out, but she was embarrassed by the rude light and by the other things in boxes, the other things were not human, brown and dark big shapes, some, or small and fleet and white but allowed no fleetness, so they carried on thinking she was a paranormal phenoma that they had been lucky enough to capture. Which she was, also.
They took a lot of photos. She was burnt by the fluorescent lighting and by the way the monkeys held onto the bars.
One day they opened the cage to do a physical test and she slipped out past them. She had been studying the door. She slipped out past them and out of all the wooden dusty doors and back onto the grass but this time she didn't try to sleep on it she only ran. After that she had lived up on the hill. Nobody had seen her. Nobody had seen her, the sun only lifted its beak to her during the day, and the stars cheeped to her during the night and she had cheeped back and occassionally an owl had come down and settled on her arm that had been the extent of it. She had been lonely as a feather.
When Philip came with his camera she had flown to him like mercury.
Who was she and where had she come from?
Melinda ached. She ached in her bones and in her spiral being. And she knew in the ache – though she had thought a wedding might procure a miracle – but without much belief in crosses and churches – nothing only fumbling and embarrassed slow love. She knew that in the ache itself, there was no space for love. There was only old compressed thunder like static and it would take them both away from life.
'I'll go into the forest then,' said Melinda. And she took her red jacket that Philip had bought her because he knew that even though she was not visible she often got chilly in the Scottish wind -and went out of the flat. She was calm about it by now, even comforted, that she had to go back to the broken start to get a clear hold on this cold place. It made sense, like the stories. She wished she hadn't shouted at Hannah, who had only been trying to help.
There was probably an easier way to the quadrangle with the psychology building, but Melinda walked up the hill and then down the hill, because that was the way she knew.
The grass was still there, and it seemed friendly enough. But Melinda knew they had seen her in the security cameras.
She walked across the green grass, her heart pounding enough to make her seen by a thousand eyes if she could be. But you can't, Melinda reminded herself. So you're safe. Blind substance without light to meet you. But from their eyes safe.
The door was flat, and hard against her palm. All of the students – like bees – when she had been here before they hadn't. And she was confused that they were laughing and smiling and grimacing and carried around battered books and they didn't know about downstairs. Couldn't they hear thin stink of the doors? But all she could hear was the bursting open of coke cans and the ripping of paper and the clicking of pen lids while they waited for their lecture to start.
Melinda saw one of the people who had been down there doing the tests. She crouched down by the wall. Could he remember? Could he remember her breathing? Her heart was still beating as it had beaten when they kept her here. Being a long time half awake/sleep against a ground that didn't give and nauseated by it.
He was moving quickly. It was him who was giving the lecture. He ushered the students into the class. They looked cheerful. He was a good teacher, she realized, surprised. He had taken ultraviolet pictures and yet here upstairs he was a good teacher. Was this the way they all were here? Half and underhalf?
Not Philip, though, not Hannah. They were kindled all over with being kind.
She had been slow, inside the cages. Each time they took her, cracking their focus on her, it had slowed her down. That was why it had taken her so long to get out.
She stood up. There was nothing on her now, and she was floating as quick as thought. So she went up to the board with the list of names.
Professor Crispin was on the fourth floor.
Melinda walked up the stairs. She hadn't been up, before. The stairs were blue carpet.
The fourth floor was small, it only had four rooms. From the windows, Melinda could see a raucous grey sea and gulls like ships and it calmed her.
The sign said:
Head of Department
As she was knocking, Melinda realized too late, given her state, it would have made far more sense to telephone first.
The office was covered in books. As well as theoretical psychology, whatever that was, on the top shelf, there was Yeats, and Blake and there was even One Thousand and One Nights, and this calmed Melinda also. Behind the desk there was a picture of a forest that said it had been done by Emily Carr. On the desk was a pomegranate, a wooden statue of a tree, and an old beanie baby dog. Behind the desk was a woman with short grey hair, who was sitting very still and watching – not with terror, but with a very focused concentration as Melinda closed the door behind her.
Melinda said: 'A friend of mine said you could help me – there aren't any witches in the forests – there aren't any forests - ' she paused in confusion – knowing she had begun badly and the woman's eyebrows were raised very high.
'Is this a joke? A student prank?'
'No,' said Melinda. 'I'm not visible.'
'Oh,' said Professor Crispin. Melinda couldn't interpret her tone.
Melinda sat down in the chair in front of the desk and waited. She made her breathing sound, so that the woman would know she was still there.
Professor Crispin breathed through her nose. Then she said:
'Dean Morris in the lunch room the other week was going on about invisble phenomenon visible under a camera lens – paramemories, they called it, something about a Victorian lady - '
Melinda said: 'Yes. They thought they were imagining me and they wanted to do experiments.'
'Good god,' said Professor Crispin.
Melinda said making her voice sound calm: 'If you try to send me back there, I'll come and haunt your house and give nightmares to your grandchildren.'
'Alright, alright,' said the professor. She turned her swivelled chair around and pulled out a bottle.
'Would you like a whiskey?'
'Yes please,' said Melinda.
Professor Crispin poured two shots and downed hers in one, and so did Melinda. She swallowed and coughed. It reminded her of fire laden mornings before she slipped.
Professor Crispin sat the beanie baby dog back up. 'You had better start from the beginning,' she said.
So Melinda told her. She told her about the falling, and the lawn of the quad. She told her about the light like Lear's daughters, and the way she had felt under camera, a sudden slowing, like a screeching on of breaks.
'It is like,' said Melinda, trying to find the words, 'Unseen I am all different thousands. My feet are free and there's no edges to my blood. I don't remember myself very well. I am swift and remember other colours better.
And then, in that camera - I am stained and can't.'
'Right,' said the Professor. 'I see.' She paused. 'And then you escaped.'
Melinda told her about watching the door, and fleeing one day and about reaching the top of the hill and living with the white branches of the willow and yew and hawthorns. Then she hesitated.
Professor Crispin waited.
This was the first time Melinda had told her story all the way through. And it didn't seem to make sense, like two parts soldered weakly together. Maybe that was why it was all falling apart. She said:
'A boy came up – a student – he was photographing the hawthorns and I got in the shot. I know tales but I don't know where from. I asked him to marry me. I thought it would give me a soul and so I would be seen.'
The professor was still silent.
'I was standing on the hill and I got in his shot. It wasn't like before in the lab. He saw me and his eyes went wide. Wide.'
'I touched him on the collarbone and he was so suddenly still, just like I in his photo. I felt his hand in my hand before I had felt it. And we walked home together.'
'A man called Jake married us, they in the kitchen and I in another room.'
'But even through it I was not visible.'
She stopped, not sure where to go from there. The Professor was looking at her.
There was a long silence in the room.
'Well,' she said, when she realized Melinda had finished. 'I have to admit I'm not really sure – Are you wanting to press charges against the university?'
'Press charges?' Melinda was confused.
'That's not why you're here?'
'Oh,' she said. 'No - I – didn't think about charges.'
'Ah.' There was a silence. 'Then why are you here?'
Melinda was embarrassed and confused. 'My sister Hannah, said you gave advice, like a witch in the back of the forest, and I said - I had to go to her, because I thought getting married would give me back a soul, but then I thought – going to find a wise woman would do it.' She blushed, and was glad this time not to be seen in it.
'Ah,' said the professor. 'A witch at the back of a forest. I see.' She half turned to look at the painting behind her, then she turned back.
'Well, mostly I deal with anorexia, depression, the typical student – not really -'
Melinda was silent. It seemed to her that, right at the top of this sad place, the professor had been looked at too much, as all dry and thinky, and she wasn't sure any more what it was she could do or who she was. She waited. And she watched her while she was waiting, trying to watch the old things out.
The professor put the fingertips of her hand together.
'Not visible,' she said, slowly. 'Fallen from a star.'
'I need your help,' said Melinda.
The professor frowned.
'What seems to be the problem, exactly?'
'I want to be seen,' said Melinda. 'I want him to see me.'
The room was silent again. It seemed as if the wooden tree on the desk might come out in leaves. Melinda, listening very carefully, could hear, in the silence, the rocking of the sea.
'I find it – strange that – you'd come back here after what has been done to you in this building.'
'I need your help,' said Melinda again. As they were sitting there, up in the tower, she was becoming more aware of the rest of the town, the castle on the crest of the sea, and deep beneath it, tunnels.
The Professor put her arm down on the desk.
'Would you shake hands with me?' she asked. 'Just so I can - '
Melinda did so. Her hand was dry, and lined.
She took her hand away and nodded, as if she had made a decision. She said to Melinda:
'I hope you don't mind my asking, but do you and your boyfriend -'
'Do you have Philip have intercourse?'
'No,' said Melinda. 'He is afraid of me. Wouldn't you be, of a voice you couldn't see? We sleep in each other's arms. But he doesn't reach me deeper. And I also - I am – sometimes when he takes photos - I remember the – first ones and I get a terrible reach of fury. After that intimacy would be a lie, and so I stay from him.'
'I see,' said the professor. She thought for a time. 'And you don't remember anything from before you fell. From the -' her voice hesitated slightly – 'star.'
'No,' said Melinda, 'But then - I remember everything. When I think about this planet I know – all about it. And I know the stories, although Philip sometimes has to remind me. But maybe that was from – before I was a star.'
'And you were not visible since you came down?'
'Not visible,' agreed Melinda, 'Yes. Only in the camera.'
The professor took a breath and breathed out through her nose. Melinda waited.
'You say it was like – when you can't be seen – you say it's like being everywhere at once?'
'Not everywhere,' said Melinda, slowly. 'Just – more.'
She poured them both another whiskey. 'You remind me of quantum physics.'
'What do you mean?'
'Like a quantum particle. Did you ever hear about the dual slit experiment?'
Melinda nodded. Where did she hear, or when? But because the professor couldn't see the nod, she said:
'They have tiny particles and shoot them through slits in a screen. When the particles are unobserved, it does appear as if they go through both slits at the same time. That is the pattern against the wall behind. Both at the same time. How can that be? They split like a wave, like a liquid, like a flow. Solid particles. Solid particles flow through the slits like a fountain and appear like great waves on the back wall.
But – and this is the hardest part to comprehend - when the particles are observed, when someone switches a camera on and watches, they make a decision. They are, slowed down, like you said. Like particles should be. So they go through one space or the other, and reach the wall like a grain of granite. When the camera is switched on.'
'Whenever I speak of it, the beauty strikes me again,' said the professor. 'A beautiful and marvellous thing. Impossible, of course. Just like you.' She smiled.
Melinda nodded again.
The Professor stood up and went to the window, and was silent for awhile. 'Well, it's just that,' she said, as if defending the telling of this story to the invisible woman in her office, 'if I was one of those particles, I would consider both states of being a blessing.'
Melinda said nothing.
Professor Crispin walked back behind her desk, and studied the painting for awhile.
'Canadian,' she said, obscurely.
She poured herself another whiskey, and downed it again.
'If I were not a member of this department, you know what I'd tell you?'
'What?' said Melinda.
'No, strike that,' said the professor. 'Science has many faces.' Her voice sounded newer, and fuller – of whiskey, partly. But Melinda's heart felt better. 'Yes, science has many faces. If you were to seek her on the Tree of Life, she would be at the home of the God of Thieves, did you know that?'
'No,' said Melanie – although – although yes, in fact, she thought she might have known that, although the words had been different.
'So what I say as a distinguished professor of psychology is: go downstairs, set the mice and a couple of the monkeys free, don't come back here - then go back to home and tell Philip to shut his eyes,' said Professor Crispin.
She picked up a bunch of keys on her desk.
'Here,' she said. 'As head of the department, I must have a key to everything for security reasons. She slipped a tiny one off it's hoop, and laughed a little self-consciously.
'This is the kind of thing you might, have been expecting to get, yes? From the - witch in the forest?'
Melinda shut her hand around the little golden key, and the professor could see it glinting in the air through Melinda's closed palm.
'Yes,' Melinda said. 'Thank you.'
Melinda went all the way down, the curving staircase. There was nobody in the basement cage floor. She didn't turn the light on. She remembered where they were. She also remembered, from where she had watched it, the finger rhythm of the combination to the alarm.
Melinda let out all the mice and opened the door. They could find their own way. She hoped that they enjoyed the blue carpets.
The monkeys were more complex, and to Melinda's guilty relief, there were only two in the lab right now, two small, young howler monkeys with long silky tails.
They clambered up on her shoulders heavy and warm and it was only afterwards that Melinda realized they hadn't hesitated about it. Was a monkey eye something different?
Melanie carried two monkeys home in her arms and everyone in the street was so alarmed to be hallucinating flying monkeys that they didn't come near her. They felt warm and she felt grateful.
At home she let them off her shoulders and they clambered around to explore. They sat on the table and chewed digestive biscuits that she found in the biscuit bin. She named one of them Handel and the other Perseus.
She texted Hannah with the phone Philip had bought her.
'Sorry about b4. Went to see Crispin. Set monkeys free.'
She cupped her hand around a mug of tea and luxuriated in the gentle burn, sipping and sipping again, feeling the fresh heat on her tongue.
Tell him to close his eyes?
The first instruction had been simple and its action a joy. But she wasn't sure what the second would accomplish at all.
Close his eyes – when? When he was speaking to her? When they were embracing? For sure, it was not a problem, a small request – but she disliked it.
He had no right to be eyeless. She needed him here. That was the whole point.
She imagined what it would be like if he were really blind. Knocking about the apartment. What would be the point then?
She knew that he had wondered, when he took the photos that first day at breakfast, if she was some kind of spirit. Incubus. She had seen it in his eyes. And perhaps she was. Without doubt there was a part of Philip, a seeing part, that she fed on. At least – needed. Wasn't it the same thing?
Melinda put her head down on the wooden table.
If he shut his eyes it would be her responsible – for the framing. And it made her nauseous. If he shut his eyes and put his hands out to touch her – he would need her – which was fine – but she would be the one burdening the particles with clumsy certitude. But she was a girl from a star and such dirty work would stop her going home.
Handel was starting to chew the carpet so she took him onto her lap. Home wasn't really a place for monkeys. Should they take him to Africa?
Perseus had wandered off to explore the rest of the house.
A key turned in the door. Confused, she stood up, sending Handel chittering to the floor.
He was standing in the doorway watching the monkey chewing the red and white tablecloth.
She went over to him quickly. She put her hands on his waist. 'I'm still here. That's Perseus. Handel's in the spare room'
'Melinda, thank god,' he said and he clutched her shoulders. 'I thought -.' He shook his head and laughed.
'You thought I turned into a monkey.'
Philip reddened and looked away. 'Well, you know – when you marry a – and you're not sure -' He decided it was better to let it go. 'Why are there monkeys in our kitchen?
Melinda kissed him on the nose and on the lips. She was so relieved by him. Relieved by his presence. Her heart hard-beating she took his hands, and lead him into the living room. She wanted to explain, and she didn't. She said:
'I was looking for my soul.'
'In the monkeys?'
'Come outside with me.'
'Later, when it's midnight.'
They made stew together and spent the evening getting acquainted with the monkeys. After, it was late and cold. No one was out, only a late few students, who hurried past them, too tired, cold, or drunk to see anything at all let alone Philip and his flying monkeys.
They walked through the cobbled streets and onto the small cove, bleak with gulfs of sand in the half set moonlight. The steps down were slippery and Philip held Melinda's elbow while she held the monkeys in her arms. She set them down and they started to play in the foam on the edge of the sea. Above them the crest of the castle.
'What if they go too far out?' she asked Philip.
'I'll dive in and get them,' said Philip gallantly, a bizarre thing to say when he wasn't a good swimmer and he had no desire to catch pneumonia but perhaps he wanted to show that he knew – or at least sensed - that Melinda had risked her life this afternoon and he also – when it came to it – could do the same.
The lights of the moon were shining onto their skins, and onto the damp tight seaweed, and the sea was plashing between the rocks. The monkeys started throwing pebbles at each other.
Philip took Melinda's hand. It was cold and clammy. Where had she been this afternoon? Who had she met or fought? He loved that there were monkeys in their house. But what if he shouldn't? If he should put his foot down and take them back?
Sometimes Philip felt as if there was a man, in his mind, but it wasn't him. He was a boy, still. In Melinda's eyes? Even though husband? How could he be a man in his wife's eyes if she had no eyes for him to see?
It was, after all, at times ridiculous.
'I'm sorry about yesterday. I shouldn't have taken the photos.'
Melinda said nothing.
After a time she said: 'Because I was upset?'
'Yes,' he said.
Perseus howled as his toes got wet and rushed up to the top of the sand. Students laughed on the streets above. He could see ships very far out.
What was the right thing to say?
'I love you Melinda,' said Philip. 'I love you in all colours, even without them.'
Melinda said: 'Yes.' She said: 'Philip, please close your eyes.'
'I don't know.'
Philip swallowed and said: 'Melinda, I love you. But it's half past midnight and the ships are so far out at sea I can only see mist. Let's go home.'
Philip sighed. He rubbed his eyes. The sand was tight round his feet.
Both his hands were taken, and he felt the rough-salt on his wife's skin.
'How will it help?'
'I don't know. I told her I needed you to see me.'
'So I should be blind too?'
'Why don't you want to try it?'
'I don't know, Melinda. I feel -' He didn't know what to say. That it wasn't every man who would marry an invisible wife?
'I'm just tired, that's all.'
'Okay,' said Melinda, though he could hear from her voice that it wasn't.
'I thought you'd be proud of me for trying out here. You know? But you think I'm just - silly.'
'Silly? I married you, didn't I?'
More silence. Footsteps.
A voice from a rock.
'Are you glad about the monkeys?'
'Yes, Melinda, about Handel and Perseus I'm happy. But they're cold and tired, and I am too. Let's go home.'
Shells fell out of pools where she was climbing. 'You made me invisible.'
'What? Me?' Now he was angry. 'Are you crazy? I found you on the blasted -
'Heath.' The voice laughed. 'I know it's unfair, Philip. Because you didn't. You're only a boy with a camera. You rescued me and took me home. You're an innocent. Only you aren't. When I say you I mean – you. Do you know what I mean?'
'What if there were things that could be seen if you only had eyes to see them?'
'Are you saying if I looked hard enough I could see you?'
'Did you ever try outside of your camera?'
'You married me because you liked the photos.'
'Well? So did you.'
'I don't know what you want from me,' said Philip.
'Nor do I,' said Melinda.
There was silence on the beach, and the wind rocked it. The monkeys came up to Philip and tugged at his trousers.
'I'm going to take them home,' he said to Melinda. 'Come with us.'
Silence. He scooped the warm furry creatures up and Perseus put his arms round him. He went up the beach, his heart thudding. The streets were icy and alien. And what if the bloody police took him in for stolen goods?
He got home, he unlocked the door with difficulty and deposited the monkeys in the living room. He ransacked the fruit box and gave them each a chopped apple. Then he sat on the carpet and cried.
When he couldn't bear it anymore he left them in the living room and opened the front door. As he did so, he felt a breath on the threshold and something -
He stepped back, his heart rushing -
'Philip,' said his wife. 'It's just me.'
Philip stood on the hall, furious at his fear and his relief, at the insane situation into which he was married.
Melinda said: 'I came back from the rocks. Come into the kitchen. Where are the monkeys?'
'Living room,' said Philip. He followed her, and they sat down at the table.
'My hands are icy,' she said, and put them against his. He took them and rubbed them.
'You shouldn't have stayed out so long.'
Then he said: 'I want to see you, Melinda.'
Melinda was silent. She said. 'I want you to see me too. I was nasty to Hannah, but I didn't mean to be. She sent me to a woman, for help. In the same place where I was held. That's where I got the monkey's from. Marriage hasn't worked. I mean –' she hurried on 'It's nice. But it hasn't – you know. So I went to ask for advice.'
'And she said I should shut my eyes?'
'Yes,' said Melinda. 'I was afraid.'
'Why?' said Philip.
Melinda hesitated. 'I don't know if I really love you or if I'm just taking advantage of your sight. Like an incubus.'
'But I can't see you.'
'When you want to you can.'
Philip paused, then he dipped his forehead down so he brushed his crown against Melinda's hand and said: 'I'm frightened too.'
'I don't know if I love the part of you I can't see.'
'But you can't see any of me.'
'When I want to I can.'
'Yes,' said Melinda, with a thoughtful sigh. Then she said: 'The Professor said I was like quantum physics.'
While Philip was reflecting on this, Melinda took his hand again and said quietly:
'I think my star went down.'
Philip frowned. He couldn't see how that accorded to the laws of physics.
She said again: 'I think it went down. It feels – as if that's what happened.'
Philip said: 'Do you remember what it was like?'
'Bigger than me,' said Melinda. 'Brighter than me. Me all over. No space for – Me all over.'
Both were quiet. The sky seemed dense and near.
Then she said: 'And it could be that I inherited something of the Star. It could be that it's wrapped around me like smoke. But its nothing that can be watched or caught. Only known when you close your sight. Terribly ugly and deposing. Ancient lines, and marvellous. I'm afraid of it, Philip. That colour, those outlines. So loud, and me and - awful.'
Philip looked at her in silence. Silence seemed cubed, hexagrammed.
'What will happen to me, then, if I see that dead star you?'
'I don't know,' said Melinda, again. 'Maybe we'll stop dying.'
Philip nodded. She wasn't sure if he understood or not. And he wasn't either. But it seems he took her hand. They checked on the monkeys, who were asleep on the sofa, rushing red on the brown cloth, calming the flat of its clackety clack of humanity, loosening the tales of the thing with other dreams.
In bed which had soft sheets, they laughed as they laid each other down. Philip closed his eyes, and saw the lapse of colour. He felt Melinda touch his lips, and sense him feeling her, like swan's feathers, like bones.
His heart was thudding. Melinda was nearly crying at the course singleness of action, but she made herself continue to command sensation, to imprint sense on vision, as if she was summoning an ocean, full and broken. Philip continued into the darkness until he was beyond the horizon. It was very gradually that the darkness took place and the place that it took was Melinda. Perhaps the moon saw them from out beyond the sill, where everything is stillness and motion.